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Jim O’Brien: Pittsburgh fans can look forward to winning seasons this fall

August 21, 2012

Jim O’Brien: Pittsburgh fans can look forward to winning seasons this fall

Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien

Since you asked, here are my thoughts about our favorite teams for this season.

         I think the Pirates will post a winning season, and that’s a giant step in the right direction, and that the Steelers, Pitt and Penn State football teams will all have winning records this fall and provide fans with a great deal of entertainment.

         No, I don’t think the Pirates will be a wild-card team in the playoffs and I certainly don’t think they will be in the World Series.  It’s been a terrific season so far, with more highs than lows, and I think manager Clint Hurdle has done an amazing job.

         Considering the Pirates’ personnel, the team has been more amazing than the 1969 New York Mets.

         The Pitt schedule is soft and will be a tough sell to fill seats at Heinz Field, and Paul Cryst seems like a sound coach who understands that you do what your players do best, and not boast about your own “high octane” offense as did that phony Todd Graham, who thought he was Billy Graham and preached a better game than he played.

         The Panthers could post an 8-4 record.  The Panthers should post an 8-4 record.  But both Dave Wannstedt and Graham managed to lose games the Panthers should have won.

         PennState has been over-punished by the NCAA, but Bill O’Brien has an opportunity to be a leader in a recovery program that will gain national attention, and could end up casting a positive light on HappyValley.  I think the Nittany Lions could post a 7-5 record this season.

         Looking farther ahead, the Penguins will have a winning season as well.

         The Steelers have the personnel to post a 10-6 record and, sorry, won’t be playing in the Super Bowl.  Why do so many Steelers’ fans start the season wondering whether they will win the Super Bowl?

         I may have been dead wrong, but I didn’t think the NCAA had the jurisdiction to do what it has done concerning the penalties it has dealt Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

         I think Joe Paterno erred by not seeing to it that Sandusky’s behavior was reported to law enforcement officials since Paterno was one of the most powerful figures on the campus.  I think he stayed too long at the job and that his  power impacted his judgment.  I always thought he presented himself as being so smart, and now we learn he had to ask his son the meaning of the word sodomy.

         Overall, Paterno’s program was a solid one, and I think the school conducted its program better than most, if not as snow white as Paterno would have had you believe.

         To me, Paterno is the winningest coach on the major college level, and you can’t change that.  Why punish a dead man?  He didn’t win those games by himself.  The NCAA stripped PennState of all its victories from 1998 to 2011 and that’s just absurd.

         They fined the school a record $60 million which will be dedicated toward programs to protect children from abuse.  Again, where does the NCAA come off having that role?

         I think the four-year ban on bowl participation is fitting, and so is the reduction in scholarships from 85 to 65 over a four-year period, beginning in 2014.  Teams such as Pitt and PennState were once successful with 65 players on their varsity football teams.  PennState will attract a better kind of kid.

         Nowadays schools such as Waynesburg and Washington & Jefferson and California (Pa.) have over 100, sometimes 120, players on the squad, and half of them never get on the field.

         Bill O’Brien came from the New England Patriots to PennState.  He is right when he says PennState is still a special place to play college football, and that there are no bowl games that attract 110,000 fans as they do on a regular basis at Beaver Stadium

         O’Brien objects mostly to the NCAA granting the PennState players the ability to transfer to other schools without having to sit out a season of play.  Several key players have already transferred.

He is wrong when he says that prospects should come to PennState because he has the ability to prepare them for the next level.

         That’s not his job.  You are talking about three and maybe four kids a year who have the ability to move on to the pro football level.  His focus, and the focus of any college coach, should be to prepare his players to play college ball to the best of their ability.

         This past Sunday was a full day for any Pittsburgh sports fan, watching the Pirates play a 19-inning game and finally beat the St. Louis Cardinals and then see the Steelers win a close one with the Indianapolis Colts on a late field goal.

         I taped the Steelers’ game so we could watch the final innings of the Pirates’ game, and then we were able to watch the Steelers’ game and fast forward through the commercials and other breaks in the action.

         The Pirates still have too many automatic outs in their lineup, and the pitching simply isn’t as strong and effective and consistent as it was in the first half of the season.  When are the Pirates going to realize that Jose Tabatha has no aptitude for the game of baseball?

         It was worth watching 19 innings of baseball just to see Pedro Alvarez smile for once after he launched the game-winning home run, and to see Wandy Rodriguez get a win in his pitching log.  All three of those Pirates have the poorest body language in the lineup.     

         The Steelers have made some interesting changes in their scheme of things, but it will take a while for the team to adjust to the changes, and for the young players to grow into their roles.  The Steelers want to run the ball more, but because of injuries do not have any running backs that have proven they can do well on a consistent basis.

         I fully subscribe to the idea of protecting Ben Roethlisberger from himself and opposing tacklers. 

         The absence of Mike Wallace has been a distraction.  Chuck Noll always thought that some people are more concerned about how they do rather than how the team performs.  He thought such players would hurt you in the long run.  He got rid of such players.  Roy Jefferson was the best player on the team when Noll arrived in 1969, but he dealt the terrific receiver to the Redskins because he thought he was setting a bad example for the young players.

         The Steelers pay their players well and Wallace would get fair compensation.  He overrates himself and his production to date.  He thinks he will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day, and has told people this.  The last Steelers’ player to oversell himself in a similar manner was Kordell Stewart.

         If Wallace doesn’t watch himself, someday in the distant future he may be asking the Steelers if he can come back here to retire as a member of the Steelers.

         I’m looking forward to this fall.  Over the weekend I saw the land site near Station Square, where the Melody Tent once stood, where they are getting ready to build a soccer stadium for the Riverhounds along the Monongahela River and that will add to the downtown skyline for sports fans.

         Pitt and PennState fans can look forward to new coaches with new ideas and, hopefully, both will attract the best of football players and kids also interested in the academic and life-building aspects of the respective programs.

         Playing the Pittsburgh Steelers will still be special, and playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates won’t be so bad anymore.  This city has had more than its share of success in sports.

         Don’t forget to check out your favorite high school teams on Friday night.  That’s as much fun, sometimes more, than following the professional and college teams.

         Relax and enjoy the ride.

          Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien can be reached at or

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 10:21 am

    I remember sitting in the the shade between two-a-days at North Allegheny when we heard that the traded Jefferson.
    At that time I followed just a few Steelers, Lloyd Voss, Ben McGee, and Andy Russell.
    Tim Hernon (Son of Post Gazette Bucs writer Jack Hernon) was going on about the same old Steelers and Bill Austin’s replacement, this chuck noll.
    I recall going to Pitt stadium and sitting in the press box with Red Donnelly, then with Channel 9 in Steubenville. He was shooting his own film for his broadcast. We played the Lions on opening day and won 16-13. As we drove down the Blvd towards downtown someone yelled at the car who won the game and we said Steelers, they could not believe it.
    Then we lost 13 straight and the last game in Philadelphia Mean Joe Greene I suppose set the stage for the future as he was fighting after plays and eventually threw his helmet. He did not like losing and it started to rub off….plus this Noll guy turned out to be the right guy with the help of Art Jr. and Bill Nunn.

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